Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983
Tim Lawrence is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of East London and the author of
Sex and Dying
Breaking with 1970s protocol, Bruce Mailman encouraged his dancers to engage in sexual intercourse during the course of a night when he created a darkened balcony upon opening the Saint in 1980. Even if some approached the balcony in a circumspect manner, if at all, thousands ventured there for sex. The action proceeded to become politically explosive shortly after medics announced that AIDS was in all likelihood caused by a virus that spread through bodily secretions such as blood and semen. Horrified by the intensification of the crisis and the lack of a proportionate response, Larry Kramer published an incendiary article titled “1,112 and Counting” in the New York Native in March. Although history would demonstrate Kramer to be correct in many ways, the perceived moralism of his tone weakened the impact of his message. One of the first public figures to succumb to the virus, performer Klaus Nomi passed away on 6 August 1983. The Saint became a battleground where those concerned with the escalating crisis clashed with those determined to protect the rights of gay men to sexual freedom.
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